Driving energy efficiency

It was recently announced that the UK cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than any other European country in 2011, over achieving targets under the Kyoto protocol on climate change. Britain's emissions fell by 36m tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2011, a 6% drop, while France's fell 5% and Germany's 2%. The reductions across the main European economies keep the European Union on track for a 20% reduction (versus 1990 levels) by 2020. The political response from the Department of Energy and Climate Change has been to reiterate the importance of energy efficiency measures and decarbonising UK heating, power and transport.

Close attention to the numbers shows that CO2 emissions have fallen from a range of sectors including manufacturing, construction and energy industries since 1990 but transport CO2 emissions have actually risen during the same period (Ref 1). However, since peaking in 2007 the trend has been downward marking what is expected to be the commencement of a phase of sustained decarbonisation of road transport. Rising fuel prices have made fuel efficiency a priority for private motorist and fleet manager alike, at a time when the motor industry has been launching lower CO2emission passenger cars in response to both EU regulations and customer demand.

For trucks however the regulatory emphasis since 1990 has been on reducing NOx and PM emissions, from Euro 1 regulations introduced in 1993 through to the latest Euro 6 trucks now being showcased. Contrary to technology trends for passenger cars, Euro 6 trucks are not expected to show real world fuel economy savings compared with Euro 5 equivalents and whilst industry experts expect the emphasis of future truck engine emissions regulations to switch over to CO2 reduction, the next set of standards are yet to be defined so truck decarbonisation will lag that of passenger cars.

For fleet operators' fuel economy savings can be expected to follow from renewal of the passenger car fleet, but for trucks the challenge lies in formulating operational measures that get the best out of available vehicles, reducing the number of operational vehicles without impacting operations where possible and evaluating the potential of alternative fuels. Published a year ago, the Department for Transport's Logistics Growth Review highlighted the importance of the UK logistics sector – which contributes 9% of UK GVA and around 7% of total employment – and the potential of alternative fuels to deliver emissions and fuel efficiency savings of at least 15%. It also highlighted the scepticism on the part of fleet operators to introduce them into their operations given the lack of robust real-world evidence of their use and impact on operations. Technology trials, such as the current Department for Transport and Technology Strategy Board sponsored Low Carbon Truck Trialare therefore crucial to provide the evidence base to de-risk investments for first time users of alternative fuels and technologies.

Ultimately, energy efficiency is about the effective movement of goods and people through the transport system, and involves efficient vehicles operating in a decarbonised energy system. The most effective solution will require a portfolio of approaches: we need to move away from fossil fuels, we partly need to diversify our approaches to fleet operation and we need to drive energy efficiency. So it's about decarbonisation, energy efficiency and energy diversity, and it's about pursuing the three simultaneously.

Ref: ( 1) www.eea.europa.eu/publications/approximated-eu-ghg-inventory-2011

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